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Renton, deeply immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene, tries to clean up and get out, despite the allure of the drugs and influence of friends.
For more about Trainspotting and the Trainspotting Blu-ray release, see Trainspotting Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 7, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald
Director: Danny Boyle
» See full cast & crew
Trainspotting Blu-ray Review
A clockwork black (tar heroin).
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 7, 2011
Is it possible to eke even a few laughs out of a film about addiction? It's certainly possible to make something that has a bittersweet quality with a great deal of humor, like the film culled from Carrie Fisher's memoirs Postcards From the Edge. But aiming for a few laughs in a project about outright, horrifying addiction, especially addiction to heroin? It would be like a previous generation's attempting to invest The Lost Weekend, then the most harrowing film depicting alcoholism mainstream audiences had ever seen, with some laughs. That was the challenge facing Danny Boyle when he took on adapting Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting for the screen, but the amazing miracle is that Boyle did indeed manage to make a film with a few laughs—albeit squirm-worthy, often unbearably disturbing ones—from a source novel that may have had a cheeky air about it, but which dealt with some deadly serious subjects. Trainspotting portrays the lives of a group of heroin addicts, including Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Tommy (Kevin McKidd) and non-addict Begbie (Robert Carlyle) as they attempt to make their way through the squalid streets of Edinburgh in the 1980's. Imagine A Clockwork Orange's Alex and his "droogs" transported back to the era of hair bands and (stateside) Ronald Reagan and you have some idea of the dissolute mayhem these characters inflict both on themselves as well as innocent bystanders. In fact A Clockwork Orange, while certainly nowhere not quite as cheeky as Trainspotting (and of course it's not meant to be), bears a certain tonal resemblance to the Boyle film, for it also shows a society dangerously at odds with its supposed aims. In Trainspotting we have a group of incredibly poor kids who are living in what is supposed to be the shining jewel of Scotland, except that for them their experience is most definitely a rhinestone (not an authentic diamond) in the rough, if even that.
There are other correspondences between the two films as well. Both are narrated by their (anti-)heroes, and both portray that twisted soul attempting to go straight in a society that seems more lunatic than their worst drug or violence fueled orgies. The opening sequence of Trainspotting ably sets up the dichotomy between what society wants Renton and his buddies to be and what they envisage for themselves. Society wants them to conform, to prune off their square peg edges to fit in prefab round holes. The anthem "choose life" has taken on a completely different meaning in the United States, but for Renton and his wasted friends the phrase actually is beyond ironic, as the "life" society is urging them to choose spells certain death, or at least the slow dissolution of what they consider to be their souls. Of course they're all horribly deluded, as the depths of their addiction forces them into all sorts of horrible activities, some of which simply can't be recounted here. Suffice it to say you'll probably never look at a public restroom the same way again after having seen Trainspotting.
The film has the rather odd ability to waver drastically between outright slapstick (albeit some genuinely horrifying slapstick) and complete and utter tragedy. What unifies the film and establishes its very unique voice is the ferocious lead performance by a then very young (and largely unkown) Ewan McGregor. Once again as with Malcolm McDowell's Alex in A Clockwork Orange, McGregor evokes a seemingly carefree character who knows full well he's a maladjusted punk but who doesn't really care that much. There's a certain sanguine quality to McGregor's portrayal (as well as McDowell's, frankly) that helps to establish the film's weird manic-depressive tone that alternates between bizarre comic bits and almost melodramatic elements.
Though McGregor reaped the greatest bounty of critical acclaim when the film came out, there's no dearth of brilliant supporting work here from some fantastic Scottish actors, some of whom (like Kelly McDonald) were making their film debuts. In a sterling cast, keep your eye on the incredible Robert Carlyle, and compare his vicious, visceral performance in this film with his completely opposite turn in The Full Monty. Trainspotting also has some pithy commentary on Scotland's most famous filmic export, a certain Sean Connery.
Trainspotting does devolve into literal potty humor a couple of times and there are several other scenes which many viewers will find troubling at the very least. But it's to the immense credit of director Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge that amidst all this horrifying detritus of wasted human potential there's an element of decency and good that somehow manages to (just barely) shine through. Renton may not know how to get there, but he's aiming for something better. His repeated attempts to get off smack may not be successful (and certainly aren't helped either by his friends or his clueless parents, parents who, yes, might have come directly from A Clockwork Orange), but he sees some kind of light at the end of his hallucinatory tunnel. When he hitches his star to an illicit scheme that provides him with the chance to bring home some serious bacon, and then engages in a not so minor act of betrayal, Renton's narration doesn't try to make excuses and simply concludes that he's not a good person. While it's hard to argue very effectively with that assessment, against all odds Trainspotting posits Renton as redeemable, if only barely.
Trainspotting Blu-ray, Video Quality
Trainspotting chugs onto Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. Boyle didn't have an enormous budget to work with on this film, and that occasionally shows in some of the darker scenes, which are not bursting with shadow detail. Taken as a whole, though, the Blu-ray sports a largely very sharp image, especially in brightly lit scenes, where fine detail is abundant and colors pop magnificently. Even some of the luridly lit drug taking scenes look a good deal sharper than they did on DVD, with beautifully rich reds and blues suffusing the frame and casting a suitably hallucinatory ambience. There is a tendency toward quasi-blooming at times, especially with regard to greens, and there are a few passing instances of shimmer and aliasing, but they're very minor and should only bother the most persnickety videophiles. Otherwise this is a solid, if not completely overwhelming, upgrade to high definition.
Trainspotting Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Trainspotting has an extremely aggressive soundtrack that makes a wonderful transition to Blu-ray courtesy of a great sounding lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The film is filled with a variety of source cues, as well as several club scenes (yet another homage to A Clockwork Orange) and all of the music blasts through the surrounds with force and excellent fidelity. Surrounds in fact are utilized quite well throughout the film, including in some of the quieter scenes, where the addicts are gathered together but whose voices and drug paraphernalia effects are scattered nicely around the soundfield. McGregor's narration is of course anchored firmly in the front channels, but the sound design allows for other dialogue elements to be nicely splayed at times. Dynamic range is exceptional on this track, with dialogue, effects and score very well mixed and incredibly enjoyable to listen to.
Trainspotting Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Trainspotting Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Trainspotting has at least a couple of scenes that unprepared viewers are going to gasp at, perhaps watching through squinted eyes or even averting their gaze altogether. But if you can get past the occasional gross out elements, this is a bracing, surprisingly funny but ultimately dramatic film that manages to walk a tonal tightrope that would seem to be well nigh impossible considering the subject matter. McGregor is amazing, but the supporting cast is just as superb, and Boyle perfectly blends the absurd with the tragic to paint a one of a kind portrait of young Scots in disarray. The Blu-ray looks very good and sounds fantastic, and the supplemental material is copious, so this release comes Highly recommended.
Trainspotting: Other Editions
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Trainspotting Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Trainspotting Blu-ray - June 21, 2011
Courtesy of Lionsgate Films, director Danny Boyle's dark comedy Trainspotting will make its Blu-ray debut this September. The film that made international celebrities of Boyle (28 Days Later) and his leading actor Ewan McGregor (Big Fish), Trainspotting tells ...
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